Jochen Hecht of the Buffalo Sabres sports a visor. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Hockey has been fairly lucky so far this summer. No tragic, off-ice player deaths to report, no catastrophic, freak injuries – a la St. Louis’ Erik Johnson and a golf cart last year – to derail a team’s chances at Stanley Cup contention.
As a result, fans of just about every NHL franchise have reason to be excited at the prospect of the 2009-10 season’s kickoff.
Now imagine we’re three or four games into the 82-game campaign – and that optimism is summarily suctioned out of a particular fan base after a player central to their cause is seriously injured because he refuses to wear a visor.
Until the league and its Players’ Association wise up and mandate eye protection for all NHLers, that scenario could play out at any point. And it isn’t fair to people who pay for tickets, franchises that fork over millions to their athletes and fans who invest their collective heart and hope in players.
But it isn’t only hockey greats who willingly risk themselves – and this weekend, we saw another example of what can happen when that athletic arrogance is slapped silly by a run-in with reality.
This time, it was Major League Baseball that had an athlete suffer a significant head injury. New York Mets star third baseman David Wright had his season (and maybe more) jeopardized after being hit in the head with a 94-m.p.h. pitch from San Francisco Giants hurler Matt Cain.
Now, nobody is arguing Wright would’ve been saved by a visor. But, as noted by David Halstead, technical director of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment: “Major league (baseball) players do not play with a helmet that meets any (protective) standards.”
Still, the looming introduction of a new baseball helmet – one that offers considerably more protection, yet also appears bulkier and thus not especially fashionable – was met with predictable reticence and derision by many major leaguers.
“No, I am absolutely not wearing that,” Mets right fielder Jeff Francoeur told the New York Times prior to his teammate’s head injury. “I could care less what they say, I’m not wearing it. There’s got to be a way to have a more protective helmet without all that padding. It’s brutal. We’re going to look like a bunch of clowns out there.”
As fortune would have it, guess who also commented on that story?
Yup, David Wright. And he was one of the sane-sounding players quoted in the piece.
“If it provides more protection, then I’m all for it,” Wright told the Times. “I’m not worried about style or looking good out there. I’m worried about keeping my melon protected.”
Wright now is dealing with the same post-concussion symptoms thousands of other athletes have suffered from. And for what – to look cool? To satisfy someone’s libertarian notions of freedom of choice?
What a selfish, short-sighted mentality that is.
So take note, NHLers. With the calm of the summer soon to give way to the on-ice chaos of fall and winter, it’s nearly too late to stop fate from randomly providing another instance of a fool and parts of his melon being soon parted.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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